Soul in the Iron


STATEMENT by Craven, Abject and Craven, Solicitors and Commissioners for Oaths: ‘In re Messrs Simon and Garfunkel versus Mr A Ashworth, concerning article on The Conservative Woman website of the 27th ult; it has been brought to our attention that said article could be taken to imply that output by Messrs Simon and Garfunkel, artists formerly known as Tom and Jerry, could erroneously be regarded as cheesy, sugary and generally unmeritorious. Following complaints by readers, our client wishes it to be known that he recants such heresy and has donated a substantial sum of damages to the Pinky and Perky Appreciation Society.’

Phew! That’ll teach me to impugn iconic popsters! In my defence, I would point out that in the mid 1970s my younger sister’s sole musical possession (apart from a Bachman Turner Overdrive LP) was Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits. She played it incessantly, and after at least 300 hearings of Bridge Over Troubled Water my only recourse was to leave home. I have borne a grudge against S and G ever since. However, I now accept I was a little unfair to them and I apologise reservedly. I have also postponed plans for a three-column special analysis provisionally titled: The Beatles: crap or what?

Moving on swiftly to this week’s act: Iron and Wine. The name probably fills you as it did me with foreboding, reminiscent of Cliff Richard Christmas records and the oeuvre of Miss Elkie Brooks. But fear not. Iron and Wine is the nom de guerre of one Sam Beam, a contemporary American back-porch singer-songwriter whose early music is drowsy, gentle and hypnotic – almost a 21st century Nick Drake. His light voice could well appeal to, dare I say it, Simon and Garfunkel fans.

The first album, 2002’s The Creek Drank The Cradle, is a minor classic. Stand-out track is probably Upward Over The Mountain but the whole release is available on YouTube.

This was followed two years later by Our Endless Numbered Days, another outstanding lo-fi effort, which soared to a giddy number 158 in the US album charts. Best track might be Naked As We Came, but again you can hear every song for nothing thanks to the benevolence of Sam and his record company.

There are also several EPs worth investigating from around that time, including In the Reins, a collaboration with the band Calexico.

By 2007, sadly, Mr Beam was not content with simple arrangements and his album The Shepherd’s Dog is a much busier, messier, more elaborate affair with only three or four decent tracks. However the B-sides and rarities collection Around The Well, released in 2009, was a welcome reminder of the old Iron. There are some lovely tracks, including Morning, and Waitin’ For A Superman.

The next two albums, Kiss Each Other Clean and Ghost on Ghost, are not for me. Poppy, jazzy, electronic, over-produced. But 2017’s Beast Epic was an improvement, with a return to simple melodies if not the starkness of the early work. And then came Archive Series Volume One, a collection of home recordings from the time of The Creek And The Cradle, which takes us neatly back to the beginning.

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